On a recent Tuesday evening at Cafe Zoetrope in San Francisco's green, triangle-shaped Sentinel building, Cousin Phun approached the new short-story vending machine hiding in plain sight near the crowded bar. She deliberated between three shiny silver buttons numbered one, three, or five. Eventually, she pushed five. Within seconds, the machine spat out a long, narrow scroll printed with "Escape in Two Phases" by Zann; an original story that would take Phun approximately five minutes to read.
The Short Edition vending machine is already popular in France, where Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola initially encountered the novel concept. The machine prints original stories on demand, of various length, depending on how much time the user wants to spend reading. Intrigued, Coppola ordered a model for his Cafe Zoetrope, in San Francisco's North Beach. Installed on May 10, it's the first of its kind in the United States.
“This intriguing short story machine gives us a great opportunity to merge the innovation of today’s world with the nostalgic allure of classic manuscripts,” said Coppola in a statement.
Cousin Phun, already a huge fan of short stories by the likes of Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury and Franz Kafka, read through the story as she sipped on a cocktail. The scene seemed archaic: a woman frozen in concentration, in the middle of a buzzing crowd, reading from a line of print instead of scrolling through Instagram, as one might do normally do while sitting solo at a bar.